Ham vs. Pork: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie

Most meat lovers know a lot about the delicious taste of ham and pork. These are cooked and enjoyed in so many different ways.

The US Department of Agriculture reports that pork takes the top spot for the most widely eaten type of meat worldwide (36%). And that’s no wonder since creative and adventurous cooks can definitely whip up a great variety of ham and pork dishes in the kitchen.

While some may think that ham and pork are one and the same thing, they are actually not.

So what’s the difference between ham and pork? The main difference between ham and pork is their form or state. Ham is a term that means cured or preserved meat, while pork is a culinary term that means raw meat from a pig.

Ham is processed meat, but pork is unadulterated or pure meat in its raw state. Processed meat can be a natural or a chemical one. The meat may be smoked or salted. Sugar and chemicals like nitrates or nitrites may also be added in the curing or preservation method.

What are Other Differences Between Ham and Pork?

There are other differences between ham and pork. Firstly, pork refers to any cut or part of a domestic pig’s meat. Ham, in particular, is a cut from the back of a pig’s leg or buttocks. 

Secondly, pork is strictly a domestic pig’s meat. Now, ham essentially refers to a particular cut of pork, but nowadays, people also call other cured meats ham. It is common to find beef ham and chicken ham products on store shelves.

So if you are after pork ham, make sure to check the ingredients on the label of the canned or packed ham. Otherwise, you might come home with beef ham, chicken ham, or other types of ham.

Thirdly, pork and ham differ in color. Ham, when cured or preserved is salted, smoked, or aged. These processes tend to change the color of the meat.

The fourth difference between these is the shelf life. Pork, including the ham cut, is raw and will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Freezing pork meat will extend its life from 6 to 8 months. On the other hand, cured ham and canned ham have significantly longer shelf lives. You can keep them for years before they go bad.

Lastly, pork will always require some type of cooking because it is raw. But ham may be ready to eat, especially the cured and canned ones.

Does Ham Taste Like Pork?

Yes, real pork ham tastes like pork because it is pork meat. However, chicken ham or beef ham naturally tastes differently. However, a cured pork ham will taste saltier than regular pork meat. And unlike plain pork meat, cured ham may have that smoky taste. Preservatives in ham may also vary the taste.

When Should You Use Ham?

You can use ham as an ingredient in many recipes. Choose ham as your choice of meat when making sandwiches, pasta, omelet, and soup.

Mix a generous amount of ham in your mac and cheese. You can also bake some ham, cheese, and pineapple pizza. Ham also works well as an ingredient in potato pies and quiches. Lastly, you can add thin or small slices of ham to your salads.

Can You Substitute Ham for Pork in Recipes?

Yes, you can use ham instead of pork in recipes using a 1:1 ratio. Use the same weight for ham as what is required for pork, particularly for minced pork substitutions. Reduce the amount of ham when substituting for pork meat with bone on.

You may also need to add cooking oil (animal fat) oil for stews because pork ham does not have or release as much fat as other cuts of pork meat. Keep in mind that a lot of pork dishes definitely taste better when you use the recipe’s intended cut of pork as the ingredient.

Can You Make Ham from Pork?

Yes, you can surely make your own homemade and natural ham using pork. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy your choice of meat for ham. Pork leg ham is most common. For picnic ham, use pork shoulder meat.
  2. Prepare your brine. Mix 1 cup salt, 1 cup sugar, and 1 liter of water. Optional: You may add ¾ tsp of celery powder to substitute for curing salt if you want to put curing salt into the brine.
  3. Submerge your meat into the brine. If the brine is not enough, you’ll need to make some more. Up to 2 kgs. of meat is best for this brining method. If your pork is bigger than that, you might want to use a brine injector into your meat to make sure that the brine reaches the innermost sections of your ham.
  4. Keep the meat in the brine solution and inside the refrigerator for at least 3 days. Keep it longer if you want a saltier ham. Large meats may need at least 5 days of brining. Keep in mind though that the longer you keep your ham in a brine solution, the saltier it gets. You may turn the meat over once per day.
  5. Remove the ham from the brine and air dry for some hours. If you find the ham too salty, rinse it in water before air drying it.
  6. Bake the ham in a preheated oven at 400-450 degrees for 3 hours. You may have to add or reduce the time depending on the size of your ham. At 150 degrees F internal temperature, the ham is ready.
  7. If you want to glaze your ham, do it before the last 30 minutes of baking time.

Final Thoughts

  • Pork is plain, raw meat from a domestic pig. But ham is often cured or preserved meat.
  • Ham is a specific cut of pig meat, while pork can mean any part or cut of a pig’s meat.
  • Pork is meat from a pig, but some hams can be made of beef or chicken.
  • Cured and canned ham has a much longer shelf life, while regular pork meat and fresh ham cuts have shorter shelf lives.
  • Processed ham can be a natural or chemical one. Cured ham that has nitrites or nitrates are chemically processed.

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